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Valentine’s Day: Herbs for Lovers

February 14th, 2009

Lighten up your love life!

Lighten up your love life!

People have used the power of foods and herbs to enhance their love lives since time immemorial.  Some of these foods have more of a scientific basis for being effective (note the zinc content of oysters) than others (powdered rhino horn).  But besides oysters and heart-shaped pizza, there are other foods and herbs that can enhance your love life, too.

Romance, libido, and sexuality are complicated. Even their reasons for being complicated are complicated;  each is the product of overlapping physical, psycho-emotional and situational factors and each person’s circumstances are unique.  So when it comes to recommending nutrients people can use to improve their love lives, it’s never been and never will be a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some experimentation and trial-and-error will always be necessary. But if you’re willing to do that, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Chocolate has been called the Food of the Gods and in its various forms has become legendary for the decadent appeal it’s enjoyed for centuries.  It’s no accident that chocolate is so popular on Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate is well-known to contain several feel-good compounds like theobromine that possess almost drug-like abilities to induce a sense of comfort, well-being and intimacy.  But what’s should be emphasized is that these effects are due to compounds in the cocoa powder only, not the sugars or the fats.  In fact, the sugars and fats don’t do you, your health, or your libido any good at all. And there can be even more sugar and fat than chocolate in commercial chocolate candies and bars, because good cocoa is very expensive when you have to buy in wholesale quantities. So bakeries and confectioners usually skimp on cocoa powder, but you can afford to use it liberally.

And using it liberally is the only way to unlock the full, intense chocolate ‘experience’.  Start with organic cocoa powder and add the sweeteners and other ingredients of your choosing. Make hot chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate pudding or a protein shake or bake it into a recipe.  Go ahead and use a lot, organic cocoa is a legitimate super-food and very good for you.   Just be sure to and sweeten it with a low-glycemic alternative sweetener like xylitol or erythritol. Besides an intensely chocolate taste, you’ll experience the full mood-enhancing effects of the cocoa.

Skip the storebought candy and use organic cocoa powder to make intensely-chocolate treats at home.

Skip the storebought candy and use organic cocoa powder to make intensely-chocolate treats at home.

Another great nutrient for setting the mood is kava kava. Kava is member of the pepper family, and kava roots were traditionally used as a ceremonial herb by several western Pacific cultures. Nowadays kava kava supplements are used for their potent relaxing and mood-altering effects, and they can be enjoyed without the drawbacks of alcohol or other psychoactive drugs.  Kava is a good herb for romance because its effects kick in quickly.  Kava produces a pleasant sense of awareness and calmness, but it doesn’t affect coordination or judgment or have any significant side-effects.  Kava is taken as a stand alone supplement and is also included in some libido formulas as well. Look for a kava extract that contains a standardized level of kavalactones, and choose the one with a high level after comparing a few.

Horny Goat Weed (a literal translation of its Chinese name Yin Yang Huo) is an herb from Chinese medicine that’s been adopted by herbalists in the West because of it’s ability to strengthen libido in both men and women.  Horny Goat Weed, known botanically as epimedium, was reportedly named by the shepherd who discovered it. As the legend goes, he noticed a change in the mating behavior of his flock after they ate the leaves of a particular bush. This bush eventually became a part of traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s used to strengthen Kidney Yang, which is associated with sexual drive and energy. You see Horny Goat Weed most often in multi-ingredient libido formulas, although it is also sold and used as a standalone nutrient, too. Horny Goat Weed doesn’t affect mood or emotions the way chocolate or kava do, instead it makes users more physically responsive and enhances sensation.  Epimedium can work extremely well, or not at all, it really depends on the person.  If possible, use a Horny Goat Weed extract standardized to contain a high level of icariin.  Effects on libido and response are usually realized within a few hours of the first dose, reaching a peak and eventually plateauing with continued daily use, so it’s something you can only use for 2-3 weeks before the effects start to diminish and you need to take a 1-2 month break.

Dried epimedium (horny goat weed) leaves

Dried epimedium (horny goat weed) leaves

Another herb from Chinese and Asian medicine is ginseng and some types of ginseng have libido-enhancing qualities, too. Among the best would be Korean Ginseng extracts. Korean ginseng is used medicinally to treat some types of impotence and fatigue. In otherwise healthy men and women, Korean ginseng can also enhance libido and stamina, but like other herbs, some people respond better to Korean ginseng than others, some experimentation is necessary. Again, choose a ginseng extract, that will have a high and consistent level of active ingredients.

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